Most people today have some form of negative thinking. It’s seems to be common in the American culture to have some form of self-criticism or self-judgment. In fact, one study in Fiji on eating disorders, which is a psychological disorder with many similarities to addiction, found that Fijian women who were exposed to American television were developing eating disorder tendencies, such as having a fascination with one’s weight and body image. The point is that the culture Western society can facilitate negative thinking and self-criticism in individuals.

Another tendency common in the American culture is perfectionism, a psychological trait that frequently accompanies self-criticism. Perfectionism is the tendency to strive for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards. Perfectionists tend to compulsively reach for their goals and measure their self-worth by productivity, accomplishment, and the quality of their work. Those who are frequently perfectionists and self-critical tend to have negative thoughts like, “That’s not good enough,” or “I’ll never measure up.” In fact, the endless trying to be perfect is frequently a means to cover up a negative belief about oneself.

In fact, there’s a saying in the recovery community: “Progress, not perfection.” It’s easy for recovering addicts to forget that perfectionism is not the goal of recovery; progress is. And part of making progress is catching yourself in negative thinking. If you can catch your thoughts before they drive you into perfectionism, you can coach yourself into a more positive and healthier experience. For instance, instead of “I have to get this right,” you can coach yourself by saying “I am not perfect, but I’m going to do the best I can.” In this way, there is less emotional and psychological pressure. You don’t have to strive for flawlessness. Instead, you can change those negative beliefs and thoughts by coaching yourself with thoughts that are positive. Another example is the thought, “I am worthless,” can be replaced with “I am human, and I make mistakes every once in awhile.”

You might see how coaching yourself with positive and loving words can have a more positive effect. However, trying to overcome criticism and judgment with perfectionism rarely works. In fact, the many patterns of negative thinking and the heavy feelings that accompany them are often at the root of addiction. However, finding the thoughts that lead to those distasteful feelings can help prevent craving for drugs and alcohol. And once a thought is found it can be replaced with a thought that is more life affirming and self-loving.

This is particularly useful right in the middle of having a craving for a drink. Instead of actually fulfilling that desire, you can write down the thoughts you’re having along with your associated feelings. Keep in mind that unhealthy thinking might be evident among the behavior of friends, family members, or others who you knew when drinking. In other words, you might see the evidence of unhealthy thought patterns around you.

Of course, negative thinking is not only the result of perfectionism. Certain thinking patterns might also develop because of a need to feel a sense of control or to justify certain behavior or to feel safe. Unhealthy thinking might also develop as a result of not knowing other ways to cope with challenging circumstances. Frequently, negative thinking patterns develop as a response to difficult experiences we have had in life. However, when those challenging experiences are over, a person rarely lets go of that thinking pattern. Instead, those thoughts persist and continue to create challenging inner experiences.

By examining thoughts, you can almost immediately change your mood and behavior. This is the point of accessing those unhealthy thoughts, regardless of their source. This gives you the opportunity to replace them with your positive coaching and as a result prevent any experiences of depression or anxiety, and this in turn facilitates changing your life.

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